MORGANTOWN, W.Va — This has been a lengthy and eventful offseason so far for West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins, one that included player departures, scrutinized recruits, heavy doses of doubt and even a hip replacement surgery.
Slowly, things are getting better, first with the operation to cure the pain in his right hip and followed shortly by the signing of the year’s final recruit, splendidly named junior college wing Billydee Williams.
For now, Huggins merely wishes that Williams works every time.
“I think the younger generation doesn’t have any idea of who Billy Dee Williams is,” Huggins said of the star of films and commercials and not of his newest player. “I just hope he’s good enough that he’s going to make people remember him.”
Forwards Elijah Macon, who played on a touring team in Asia earlier this summer, and Jonathan Holton will both be eligible after sitting out last season, Huggins said. They’ll give WVU a presence in the front court and a rebounding and defensive presence that was lacking.
Freshman Jevon Carter enrolled in summer classes earlier this month. Freshman Daxter Miles, Williams and fellow junior college transfers Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip are expected to enroll for the second summer session that starts June 30. Phillip, who had legal issues WVU was not completely aware of, has court dates set to address charges for missing previous appearances originally planned for separate larceny and injury to personal property charges.
What hasn’t changed is what Huggins has believed all along, going as far back as the press conference he called early last month after Terry Henderson decided to transfer and Remi Dibo decided to go home to France start a professional career
All of that, of course, followed Eron Harris’ announcement in March that he, too, would transfer.
“Don’t forget,” Huggins said May 10, “we’ve got probably the leader for the Big 12 player of the year coming back who’s going to have the ball in his hands. I don’t think another team can say that.”
It’s almost forgotten now, but Juwan Staten, the team’s leading scorer last season, the Big 12’s leader in assists, assist-turnover ratio and minutes played and a first-team all-conference and all-defense pick, spurned the NBA in favor of his senior season. He didn’t even wait to get feedback from the NBA’s evaluators before deciding he needed another season with Huggins and the Mountaineers.
“He’s been as good as virtually anybody I’ve had in the past in terms of trying to learn what we want to learn to be able to help his teammates figure out the same kind of thing,” Huggins said.
Forget the breakneck speed Staten flashes or the way he treasures possession. Ignore for a moment the many ways he can score and the knack he has for setting up the offense for his teammates.
The 2014-15 team that will follow Staten’s lead will need a leader. It will feature two freshmen, three junior college transfers and two players who were ineligible last season.
Staten will be their conductor.
“I think it’s terrific for us,” Huggins said.
He remembered talking to assistant coach Erik Martin about the 1993 team they were a part of at Cincinnati. Huggins coached Martin and the Bearcats to the Final Four the season before behind Herb Jones and Anthony Buford.
Those two were gone a year later, but Nick Van Exel added seven points to his scoring average and led the team at 19.1 points per game. Martin went from no starts in 33 games to starting all 27 games he played and averaging 12.9 points and 8.5 rebounds. He made for half of a nice front court duo with Corie Blount, who went up about three points and rebounds from the year before to average 11.2 and 9.2.
They ended up one win shy of another Final Four.
“We had three guys who were good and wanted to do what needed to be done,” Huggins said. “We were able to convey that to a bunch of the incoming guys that were very talented and we got better and better and better as the season went on.
“I see this team being able to do that think. I think they’ll get better and better as the thing goes on. I think we have to have the same kind of selfless attitude that I think the really good teams have. I don’t have any indication at this point in time that that’s not going to happen.”
For now, Staten can lead by example, and Huggins bragged that Staten “certainly sets an example with his work ethic.” Staten’s timeline on Twitter features regular reminders that he’s been running in the woods or working out in the gym, messages that are important because the work does happen and because his peers can see that he’s out there doing his part.
“He lives in the gym,” Huggins said. “He doesn’t just go in the gym and shoot balls. He’s in there working at it. That, I think, has kind of permeated to a degree throughout our team.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.